Yesterday high winds were predicted. I’d made the effort a few months ago to find out from experienced cyclists what the limits were, in their opinions and experience, to the wind speeds that were generally safe to ride in. The consensus was up to about 30mph winds. Gusts above that have the potential to knock you off your bike, or take control of your bike.

So yesterday, perhaps I should have made a decision to not ride my bike. 30mph and higher were the predicted winds, with gusts of 40-50mph. I looked at the hour-by-hour forecast, and thought I’d likely be okay in the times I’d be riding. I got up in the morning, and it was dead calm. The prediction had been that it would be 15-20mph winds at that point, so I figured if they were off in the morning, they’d be off in the afternoon.

I rode in, and it was a nice pleasant easy ride. A few hours after I was at work, we could hear the wind slamming the building.

My coworkers asserted that I would not be able to ride home, that I’d have to get a ride. (Please note that none of them offered!) The smugness was likely imagined. Or was it? One coworker was driving to New Jersey. He’d recently driven from Canada in such high winds that he and his family had pulled over to the side to try to wait for it to calm down. It didn’t and they managed. But when someone said yesterday that they hoped the winds wouldn’t be too bad on his drive, he said, “Oh, it won’t be a problem. I am driving.”

Pointedly aimed at me?

Maybe I’m just too sensitive.

Maybe I’m DAMN sick of my coworkers and their attitudes.

I was busy at work, trying to get a certain amount done before a self-imposed deadline, so that my coworker and I (that is, the one I actually work with, not the ones I sit near) could get our first build out for the new project we are working on. I was concentrating pretty hard, trying to figure out a pesky issue, and my most annoying podmate started telling me, with his false sympathy, about how he had just been out for a walk and the wind had whipped dirt or something into the eyes of the other coworker he’d been walking with.

I didn’t really respond, because I was doing something tricky, and I didn’t want to screw it up, and it was taking all my concentration to do it.

“Do you have goggles?” he asked?

What the fuck? Goggles?

“I’m not going swimming,” I told him.

I left not long after, all my tasks completed, the code checked in, and my real coworker’s assurances that he was good to go and would put the build out there before he left.

“Good luck!” my coworkers chorused as they turned towards the ticking sound of me wheeling my bike towards the door.

“You too!” I responded, as I always do, no matter their little comments about the amazing feat of bicycling.

The winds were strong, it is true. But so am I. I pushed through the air, the invisible force of it feeling more like water than air. So much of those strong winds were to my head that when the stronger crosswinds came, I was actually protected by the slow speed I was traveling. Turning off the first street, where I was going slow enough to smile and say hello to the people waiting in the wind for the bus, I was suddenly released. The wind, for whatever reason, was mostly absent here. The hills were just as hard as normal, but I was thankful for a few minutes of calm air.

Pedaling in the bike lanes on the next two streets, busy and fast, I realized how little I usually pay attention, and how closely I needed to concentrate on each moment while in this wind. Glancing down at my bike computer, not yet chilled enough to stop working, I saw that I was going 6 mph. On a mostly flat stretch where I normally go at least 14mph.

I thought about a bike blogger I read, and about a recent post she made about challenges. That some people are after speed on the road, others technical skills on the mountain. Her self-challenge isn’t to ride as fast as possible or as long as possible, but as tough as possible. So when she comes across a six foot snow drift in the bike lane, she drags herself and her bike up and over it…and finds herself grinning to herself afterwards.

Granted, this is a woman who not only skied the Alaska Ultrasport (a 350 mile race in one of the harshest parts of Alaska in the winter) last year, but plans to do it again this year.

But I thought about her, and her challenges, and that she looks for tough on her rides.

For all my slight worries about the safety of riding in the winds, and for all the concentration it needed for me to adjust to the sudden shifts in wind that wanted to push me in a new direction, I was exhilarated.

Each major intersection I came to was like a marker, a flag I was planting. “I made it this far, I can make it farther,” was what I knew as I waited in triumph, battered by the winds at the stoplights.

When I made it to the quiet neighborhood that marks an approximate half way point for me, I slowed on my quick downhill when I saw a fellow bike commuter walking his bike up the hill. His face lit up as we exchanged greetings, that thrill of a bicyclist who enjoys being part of the tribe. I slowed to a stop to ask him how the winds were further on. I’m not even sure why I asked – I was heading on regardless, but maybe it was important to me to make that connection with another wind warrior. To find that buffer from the others, someone who I know knows what it feels like to be waiting with dedicated concentration for the next gust of wind that wants to push you towards the cars, the cars who remain ignorant of the danger, and drive just as close and just as (illegally) fast.

And so we talked, we talked about the wind and the places we ride to work. Our commuting distances are similar, his slightly longer. He gave me his advice for riding in the wind, which is the simple truth that makes most all momentum safer – go slower. I’d found this to be true, as I battled the headwinds on my journey. He told me how to make those chemical hand warmers last longer. I don’t plan on using them, though he swore by them, other than for emergencies.

He had an old basic bike. I didn’t think to look closely at it, but I think his was a single speed. For all I know it was a fixie. We didn’t talk about components, though, we talked about riding. Him on his singlespeed and me on my triple ring touring bike, we still had more in common than not.

“The winds are never a problem,” he assured me, “but on freezing days be careful of black ice.”

I didn’t ask how long he’d been bike commuting. I think a long time. We talked for five or ten minutes, until I started to feel chilled.

“I’d better go,” I told him, “I have to warm up again.”

We wished each other a happy new year.

I pushed through the air for my final half of my commute. It was harder sometimes than others, but I felt in control. The chill I’d let arrive during my conversation with my new friend, Dave, dissipated a mile or so down the road.

My legs feel that aching tiredness that I’d forgotten, but which used to be the norm after my rides.

I grow stronger.

I love biking to work.

The challenge met, the conversation with Dave, the aching muscles were both my reward and my celebration.

I couldn’t have had a more fitting bike ride on the last day of the year had I planned it. It was, I decided, all the end of year celebration I needed. I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve parties. Too many expectations, too little fun.

I’m not as good at reflecting and distilling the lessons I’ve learned as Heather is, but I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself this past year. And I’m ever more comfortable with who I am as opposed to who I thought I was or who others think I am.

And so it was with a comfortably typical disregard for the “special” day that I crawled into bed after feasting on chips and salsa, and enjoyed the snuggly warmth easing my muscles. Tempest perched on my chest, and I read about the Monère.

The new year rung itself in, unnoticed.

Advertisements